Perseverance Rewarded

My favourite quote on perseverance comes from H.W.Beecher:  “The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will and the other from a strong won’t.”  I’m not sure which of the two was at play in my decision to keep going and have a look at Villa Torrigiani.  After my experience at Villa Reale, the idea of just heading straight to Lucca was very tempting.

The slanting curves at the top of the sign mean "Narrow road ahead". No kidding!

You know you’re in for trouble when you see that sign with the slanting curves. “Narrow road ahead”. No kidding!

I’m glad I persevered.  It was relatively easy to find.  The roads weren’t any narrower than the ones I’d gone back and forth along trying to find Villa Reale.  The sun was shining and…

Villa Torrigiani

Villa Torrigiani

… the garden had the two qualities that make a garden visit worthwhile.  It was beautiful.   And it was intriguing.


In 1636 Lucca’s ambassador to the court of Louis XIV in Versailles bought a rather plain villa and proceeded to transform it into a flamboyant baroque showpiece.

Roses along the side wall of the villa.  I sometimes wonder if they paint the walls to match the roses or the other way around.  Or is it just serendipity?

Roses along the side wall of the villa. Do they paint the walls to match the roses
or the other way around.  Or is it just serendipity?

The villa was once surrounded by a garden à la française, based on a sketch by one of France’s most famous garden designers, Le Nôtre.   Unfortunately, like many of Italy’s older gardens, much of that French garden was later destroyed in what Edith Wharton denounced as the “fury of modern horticulture”.  (I’ll write more about that when we visit the gardens of Lake Como in Italy’s northern Lake District.)


Red and white salvia fill the box-edged garden beds.
Perhaps an allusion to the Italian flag?

Fortunately, a few elements escaped the “renovations”.  Like the the sunken Garden of Flora.  Red and white salvia have replaced the aromatic herbs that once filled the areas edged with boxwood.  Peccato (a pity).  Salvia – not the herb, but the flower – may be my least favourite annual.  Especially red salvia.

At one end of the sunken garden is the Grotto of the Winds.


A goddess of the winds?

At the other end is a balustraded double staircase.  The entire area – the sunken garden, grotto and staircase – was a kind of 17th century water park.  Hidden water spigots were everywhere.   Once the giochi d’acqua (water jokes) got going there was no escape.  If you tried to get away by climbing the staircase, jets from the balustrades and the stairs would soak you.  If you ran down the path, more jets were activated.  Taking refuge in the grotto was useless.  A curtain of water would come splashing down, blocking your exit.  More water would pour out of jets in the floor and the mouths of the statues.  And from the ceiling a positive torrent.  As we’ve seen before (The First Renaissance Garden, Part III – Villa Castello), people loved them.


I walked through an archway on the right side.


Very weird stuff going on in here.  Is that a serpent on the right having a conversation with a turtle in the bottom left?  I wonder if people a century or two from now (assuming the planet is still more or less intact and there are people still around to ponder such things) will find the objects we put in our gardens just as weird.

It was rough going in the grotto.  The lighting was almost non-existent (that’s why these photos are so grainy.  I had to use my flash even with the ISO set as high as it would go.) and the uneven floor was covered in a thin slippery layer of slime.


Fake stalactites.  I may know nothing about geology, but I do know these hanging hunks of spugna are supposed to be stalactites – not stalagmites – because of an interview I heard a few years ago.  A science teacher had come up with what I thought was the perfect mnemonic  – stalacTites on Top.  Brilliant.  They reminded me of a statue I’d seen in the gardens of Villa d’Este in Tivoli.

Diana of Ephesus, the multi-breasted Goddess of Abundance.

Diana of Ephesus, the multi-breasted Goddess of Abundance.

When I reached the archway on the other end of the long grotto I saw a sign leaning against the wall.  I hadn’t noticed it before.

VIETATO L'ACCESSO. SCALE PERICOLOSE. (Access prohibited. Dangerous stairs.)

(Access prohibited. Dangerous stairs.)

No mention of una grotta pericolosa!   That’s another thing that never ceases to amaze me about Italy – the notion of danger.  I couldn’t believe it the first time I climbed up  Pisa’s famous tower.  It was many years ago, before they straightened it up a bit.  The way up was along a marble path, worn smooth, and terrifyingly slippery over the centuries – on the outside of the tower.  There wasn’t even a rope to stop you from falling off when you were on the “down” side.

And then you come across a couple of stairs and they are pericolose!?

I went up the stairs.


As at Villa Reale, river gods keep watch over a large pool once stocked with fish.


Instead of Leda, here we have another Baroque favourite, the siren.

Like Leda at Villa Reale she has a nice view.

Like Leda at Villa Reale she has a nice view.


I know a lot was lost when the old Italian gardens were remade in the English “Landscape” style, but there is such a serenity and beauty to this part of the garden that maybe even Edith Wharton would have approved.